Thursday, February 12, 2015

Of Fifty Shades and Romanticizing Abuse

I have many issues with 50 Shades of Grey. I don't have issues with sex, sexual expression, female sexuality, the BDSM lifestyle, or the fictionalized or non-fictionalized account of any of the above. What I have issues with is abuse, and the glorification of abuse, and the defense of abuse as something other than--you know--abuse. (The other issues I have with this series, which are of an intellectual property nature, can wait for another blog post.) You want to read erotica? Be my guest. BDSM erotica? I'll recommend some titles. Play around with or even enter into the lifestyle? What's done between educated, consenting adults acting as equals is fine with me. But 50 Shades of Grey is not what it's being classified as in popular culture. It's not erotic, it's sure as hell not romantic, and that's the issue.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about 50 Shades of Grey and media shaming. I admitted then that I hadn't read the series, but defended the right of anyone else to read it, without shame or judgement. I stand by that post; I still think that any woman (or man, but the focus is on female readers) should be able to consume and enjoy any book they please without being judged for their reading preferences. However, I have read some of 50 Shades of Grey since then (I could not make it the whole way through), and that reading changed my perspective on the text itself. I still think anyone should be allowed to read it if they so choose. And, if you are someone who enjoys it, more power to you. I do not, however, think we should focus on 50 Shades of Grey as a romance, or Christian Grey as a hero, or the relationship between Grey and Ana as a romance, when it is anything but.

With the 50 Shades of Grey movie release--right in time to coincide with Valentine's Day--I think it's important the conversation surrounding the film and book not seek to mock those women who enjoy it because they are publicly acknowledging an interest in sex (and let's be honest, that's what the mass media coverage is focusing on; the "joke" that is women being interested in a sexually explicit movie based off of novels called mommy porn). Instead, I think the conversation should focus on the dangers of selling an abusive, unstable relationship as the romantic ideal. It's not that I think audiences are too dumb to distinguish between fantasy and reality--it's that in our patriarchal reality, abusive, dysfunctional relationships are all too often romanticized. That's the conversation I want to see in the mainstream media--how a fictionalized relationship that involves stalking, intimidation, manipulation, and physical abuse is combined with Valentine's Day and sold as a romantic fantasy. What that fantasy, and the fact that so many intelligent women have bought into it, says about our culture and our understanding of what it means to be female and in a sexual relationship with a male. Notice I'm not stressing a female in a BDSM relationship, because members of the BDSM community have spoken out (far more eloquently and with more knowledge than I could as a outsider) about how 50 Shades of Grey is not an accurate reflection of their community. I'd argue that it's not meant to be; that instead it's a metaphor that uses bondage and domination to illustrate (rather clumsily) the idea that a perfect relationship places the women--and all aspects of her life--in the complete control of the man.

Don't believe 50 Shades of Grey is abusive? One woman has actually listed 50 examples of abuse directly from the text. You can read all 50 at her blog, The Rambling Curl. I can't sum it up any better than she already has.

What are your thoughts?


  1. You are so right. I wrote a similar post. I think we need to speak out about this as loud and as often as we can. Thanks for telling the story.

    1. Something is up with my comment notification and I didn't realize you'd responded. Sorry!

      I agree; this is an issue that needs coverage, and not of the mocking variety that's out there currently. Now, apparently, James is publishing a version of FSoG from Christian's perspective. I assume this is meant to humanize his actions because readers will be able to see what a poor, broken boy he is from his own perspective? I'll pass--I don't care how much trauma exists in his life or mind. Past abuse does not provide a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card to those who wish to continue perpetrating abuse onto others.